Chair’s night and who should we have as Guest speaker? None other than David Bailey, Yeah, you read me right. David Bailey. The David Bailey, you know, the one that used to work at Asda? One of those 164 David Bailey’s who were used by Samsung to promote the NX1000 back in 2012? Being David Bailey and a photographer has been of the occasional advantage, as David outlined, though any namesake can expect to spend a certain part of their waking day in disambiguation. Especially if, at least part of your day, involves doing the same thing.
David’s theme was on the role of serendipity, the happy accident, which we have looked at as a result of the planned and the purposeful pursuit of the photograph. To be sure there were some very specific happen-stances along the way. Like the NX1000 campaign, where he got to meet the most famous of the David Bailey’s and the over the shoulder query on a London bound train, among others. In between there were long periods of learning. Each and every frame is a learning opportunity, if you have the mindset to turn it into one. Each and every frame is a unique fragment of time and geometry. Whether it is the one we were looking for …..
Bailey, as the 60’s trend for one named photographers labelled him, was, and is, by David’s account, a prodigious producer of frames, sometimes only he can see the difference in. There is a difference to be made here between the practised artist looking for what s/he knows is there and the amateur blindly firing off frames in the hope of hitting on something worth keeping. The camera becomes the instrument of discernment when it is in the hands of someone who can use it as a tool to pursue a clear idea relentlessly. The effect of a planned serendipity, the happy accident that comes from being the right person in the right place at the right time, often lies in the fact that the photographer kept on photographing those small differences until the story gelled with the one they had in mind. In this way photography is as much a process of revealing as constructing.
We have previously referred to four kinds of happy accident:
Firstly: that which is just, or seems to be, random “Sheer dumb luck”.
Secondly: chance from purposely acting towards a defined end running out of “Unluck”, you know the sort of thing, entering photos into competitions, getting feedback, putting that into action, where keeping doing things in search of something particular stirs up the creative pot.
Thirdly: chance favouring the prepared mind (“Sagacity“), that is thinking like and acting purposefully as a photographer as opposed to a person with a camera bumping into photo ops.
Fourthly: the sort that comes from being us, our actions, likes and dislikes, or as the great Victorian politician Benjamin Disraeli put it ” We make our fortunes and we call them fate”. (James Austin: Chase Chance and Creativity).
In Austin’s words David was talking about “Chance interacting with creativity”, here through four evolutionary stages from spray and pray to an ingrained, experience and evidence based work flow. This is not exclusively about style. Style will evolve with practice and a critical eye and determine the way that the forces in the happy accident come together. It will also alter subtly over time. It is about persistence an open mind and the habit of looking, really looking, persistence and anticipation. And persistence. It has long been the case that as a brand you hire Bailey because he is Bailey. You get the Bailey style, the Bailey view. More likely you don’t as he doesn’t do commissions these days, but the point is this has taken decades to evolve and it didn’t happen by itself. And it is still happening.
In the second half David moved to wedding photography as an example of a shoot closer to what the rest of us have a concept of, either as the photographer or the subject, major and/or minor, in illustrating chance interacting with creativity.
There is a long list of “Must have” shots in the expectations of clients. These have grown over the years, farmed by fashion magazines, celebrity weddings, the “Wedding industry” as the costs, technicalities and expectations of the exceptional have grown. It is a journey through a very special day and it has a number of moments in it, actually built in it. Yes these will become the prompts for reminiscences, as will the things that went right and wrong, to other events that came before and after. As time passes photographs move from being a record to being a prompt for triggering those memories.
So stiffed backed and formal are the traditional wedding shots that some of them look like they came off a production line and this in part, I suggest, became a driver for what, in some instances, have become full blown, multi-day, intercontinental celebrations. Yet, even if the day runs on the rails that the timetable of essential images suggests, there will be moments of interaction that make each part unique. Those angles, those interactions as things come together or go their separate ways, children/animals going off script, laughter, the unexpected glint of light from the bride’s father’s shotgun.
Now, note, we can get those through any of the four stages above described. The more developed we are, however, in terms of spotting, forming, framing and taking the opportunities presented, the more of them there will be and the more these things will contribute to our style. In short it is our journey from looking to seeing.ai
Former club member Danny Thomas made a welcome return with a practical follow on to his presentation from April 2014 on wedding photography this time with his assistant Neil. A great deal of thanks is extended to our models Kelly Wolf-Rogers and Paul Walker. Danny is an experienced wedding photographer and his insights on the processes of one of the biggest days a couple can possibly have had broader implications for the practice of portraiture and event photography. Weddings are all about the couple and not about models or sitters and because it is about crowds, venues, individuals and their interactions; because it something that happens under intense time pressures; because you can make a list of 50 easily to 125 without difficulty “Must have” shots; because the more time you spend in post production the more you dilute your earnings. You have to be prepared and it pays to be a Get-It-Right-In-The-Camera-ista.
The chief determinant though, is your ability to communicate and that is what we are going to discuss this week.
That doesn’t mean that there is no room for skilled post production, there is, but you don’t want to be spending it on cloning out errant tree branches growing out of people’s heads and as Danny pointed out, car parks and security fences do not make for good backgrounds. Not an issue if it’s not in the shot in the first place. There is also a potential issue with that “Must have” shots list I can spot, and that comes down to the how and the why you chose that photographer to do your wedding, or from the live view side of the camera, why your client has chosen you. You may be hired on price, reputation, recommendation, random internet search, other personal/mystical/religious grounds or you may be hired for the look you give your photographs – your style. Be careful to find out, especially if you think it is the last one.
You may persuade/kid yourself that it is your style the client is buying (they are going to get it anyway but you really want that to help rather than hinder), but you cannot rule out any of the former and you need to find out how much of all these things feed into your clients choice. The client may even make suitably impressed noises about your style, but this is a complex buying decision. Your room to interpret needs to be set out and agreed beforehand, not as a limiter of your artistic interpretation but as a matter of managing your clients expectations. You need to have the conversation. That conversation is part of what the customer is paying for and conversations in general are what we are going to talk about this week. View it, if you will, as pre-production.
The whole talking thing is big. There are conversations you need to have before and after the event. If you don’t have the right conversations with prospective clients before the event you will not be part of the event, or to summarise in two words: “No sale”. Without going into the psychology of selling (and weddings can be stupendously expensive things these days, and there is a whole other conversation to be had about that in another place at another time) you and the client have to reach a win-win situation where both sides conception of value meet in a bargain. You need to set out the context of the event in the client’s mind. You need to have a clear idea of that context in your mind. You are being hired for your technical prowess, that is a given for the client, but it doesn’t make you right. “The customer“, in the words of Mr Selfridge himself, “Is always right”.
OK some customers are rude, some arrogant beyond belief, some controlling to the point that they are impossible to work with. Photographers are not immune from these behaviours either. You need to have the sales conversation(s) beforehand if you are going to make this work, if you are going to take the client. Some clients are bad for business and mental health. Photographers too. You decide. The client decides. Remember that it is a bargain that is being struck, both sides need to feel the win. Each customer will have different experiences of photographers they bring to the bargain and will have different levels of knowledge about photography. Some will have no particular idea what they require others will come with a list borne of hundreds of hours of internet research. The key, as Stephen R. Covey put it, “First seek to understand, then to be understood”.
Locations duly scouted and noted in good time and those notes reviewed on the day, the ceremony itself takes centre stage. Well centre in the sense that it is, in the modern way of things, the middle of three acts. The preparation, the ceremony, the reception. All have certain expectations and all have their own challenges. Today’s wedding photographer faces long, pressured days on location. The conversations now are more immediate but the need for them to be focused and constant is of the utmost importance. Directions have to be given, but they have to be both accurate and concise and appropriate in tone and manner. A Drill Sergeant communicates accurately and distinctly. This is great when the only option is to fix bayonets and charge. If the occasion has deteriorated that far leave. Otherwise working with people is by far the most productive method.
This is truly where the art of delivering customer satisfaction lies. Communicating with people who are not used to having their photograph taken at an event that is not about the photography until everything is done and dusted is precisely what this is about. You have to find those small windows in the timeline to take charge but not to give offence. This takes practice. Some people are better at this than others, agreed, but this is just a start. Going back to Covey again you need, as he set out, to “Sharpen the saw”. That means you need to keep practicing, the photography and the talking to people – when was the last time you took the camera out just to practice a certain technique? Let them know what is going on – don’t give them rambling explanations of your artistic vision. “Can you …I need you to … That will look great if you ….” and so on. And feedback. And encouragement. Encouraging feedback is twice as good.
The presentation phase can be the most nerve-wracking of all, after all there is no going back. It is still a communication process. If you want feedback, if you want customer recommendations and referrals, if you want to develop your business and your photographic practice then you have to engage with the client in order to leave the door open to future business. Just giving them a link to a Dropbox folder does not cut the mustard. You are selling a service. You may create a product, but you are selling a service. The thing about a service is it stops when you stop delivering it. The legacy is highly individualised, no two photographs are ever exactly the same because they are two different moments in history. Services are perishable and non standard. That’s why communication is such a big part of the deal.
N E X T M E E T I N G
ROC Round 4 – Judgement Day.
An evening out last meeting where a goodly number of brave souls battled the elements and congregated on the Tramway Centre for a spot of light trailing. Actually it wasn’t that inclement, but it sounds more epic if there are elements to battle. Also skateboards, bicycles, motor vehicles, the occasional well oiled passer-by and the odd curious body wondering why so many people were taking pictures of buses. Buses, it appears, aren’t usually that popular even for the people riding them, so their prompted inquisitiveness was understandable, but each to their own.
As we have already done a brief tour of light painting and light trails recently so we will take a little tour around some other items of interest. Probably the most immediate impact to photographers is the future of Yahoo, particularly Flikr, which Yahoo acquired in 2005. Aside from the bile that periodic changes to its format from a percentage of entrenched users generates (the fate of all user platforms, which will lose users if they are not seen to evolve, it’s pretty much no win). Rumours have been around that Yahoo might be looking to dispose of the E-Mail, Search, Photo, that for which the general population probably know them best, their core business. They used to be King of the Hill in the web sector, but are seen to be in trouble, at least in the terms of the market. The way that they value this core (core is not the same as profitable) business means that it is worth virtually nothing. To the shareholders.
To the 112 million free-lunchers, give or take, who use Flikr, that virtually nothing is a whole lot more. It is primarily for free, but for free still needs paying for. The Pro, paid for version, doesn’t, it appears, generate sufficient income for that. So Yahoo sell off some royalty free (creative commons)images on its servers, as well as some other users images as creative wall art, which upset some people and not others. The creative commons pictures don’t get royalties. Huffington Post, when it was sold by its founders Huffington and Lerer to AOL, attracted some controversy as it had, in part, been grown by the traffic attracted by the unpaid bloggers who used its platform. There was an unsuccessful class action by some of them against Huffington and Lerer for a share of the proceeds. The bloggers lost their action broadly on the basis that no payment had ever been promised. The bloggers did it for exposure, one assumes, as they were free to cross post. There is no such thing as a free lunch.
One person’s fair use is still another person’s theft. Groupon finds itself on the end of a law suit under local copyright laws in Illinois on the grounds that they regularly raid Instagram for photos to use in their publicity misrepresenting the people who posted them. Misrepresentation takes many forms and the rights and wrongs of the Groupon case will be settled in a court of law. Others are not so serious. A small, local competition was recently won by a striking image which was duly praised and published by the company running it. But the photo was badly Photoshopped and the company running it was a local incarnation of a rather large one. A rather large camera company. Nikon. It went viral and much hilarity ensued. Canon Canada is even running its own version. All very embarrassing but it will blow over and I doubt it will affect either Nikon’s or Canon’s sales one jot. The individuals involved were duly chastised but, given the nature of modern communications, internationally, which might strike you as being a little disproportionate. This is the world we live in.
As Canadian photographers are granted the first copy right as authors of their own images, the thorny issue of other people’s property and the reproduction rights therein have been back in the news. The issue was a snap taken and entered into a competition run by Thompson Holidays, a £2,000 holiday being the prize. A horse photobombed a father and son in the winning entry. The owner of the horse wanted a cut of the prize, after all, the horse was their property (animals count as property) and was on private land and had not given permission for it to be included in the photograph. Not sure how that would pan out, it not being a cash prize. The photograph, as I understand, was taken from a public right of way and that is a salient fact as there is the idea of a right of panorama, which includes the idea that that which is on view from public land does not require prior permission to be photographed (as long as no offence is committed in order to take it).
Photo-releases are a part of the necessary process of commercial photography. They are not the exclusive domain of the professional photographer. Any photo that is paid for, whether it was taken with that purpose in mid or not, should have the basis of its copy right subject to written confirmation, even those taken in public, as far as is reasonably practicable. It can save a lot of grief later on.
I’ve said it before in this post, but there is no such thing as a free lunch. Petapixel reports that wedding photographers are not on the list of suppliers worthy of being fed according to Brides Magazine. Written by a Wedding Planner, apparently Wedding Planners are on the list of worthies. Now there is a surprise. This appears to be predicated on an idea of how long a supplier attends, and seems to me to be a good way to limit the attention you get from the people who create the record of your day. It is no longer the case that the photographer is expected to turn up at the church, take a few photos, go to the reception and ditto, before leaving for the next appointment.
N E X T M E E T I NG
R.O.C. creative round judging.
So second entry on our brand new website’s blog – Mark Stone a huge club thank you for all the work you have put into this – and it’s Dan Thomas (dannyt.co.uk) on the profession of wedding photographer. If I were to sum up Dan’s advice on the subject then I would use Winston Churchill’s maxim, “He who fails to plan, plans to fail”. Well that and the observation that your wedding video should always be played backwards so as to guarantee a happy ending.
In essence Dan made the point that there are a number of moments of truth that can be prepared for in the day because they are in the programme and as a supplier to the event it is your job to find out the who, the what, the why, the where, the when and the how it feels and record those memories – and when he says day he means a 12-14 hour shift shooting, three times that in post processing plus time consulting with the bride and groom, and the venues. That doesn’t include time spent in sales and marketing in what is a very competitive market. Yell has 141 listings of wedding photographers within a ten mile radius of Bristol. Even allowing for some multiple listings that is still a lot of competition.
It is the Bride and Grooms day, well, culturally it is the Bride’s day and the Groom does well to turn up at the right venue and look suitably grateful a lot of the time. Surprise weddings are not a large feature of the UK market, those that occur are usually small, attended by the father of the bride and his trusty 12 bore as best man. A lot of, sometimes a life time’s, planning goes into this event. On that basis the wedding photographer does not just turn up at the church take a few snaps and wonder off to the next event as already outlined. This planning forms the key points of the photographer’s and increasingly the videographer’s schedule. Dan stressed that these are unique moments that need careful planning and deft handling. Primarily this is about people, two in particular for sure, but also about everyone else. There will be a certain cohort of the families, possibly once close, who only get to meet at weddings and funerals. The day is important for them too for different reasons and sometimes with grandparents it might be the last time the whole family is together. It is not just a record of bits and pieces but a significant life event. For most people it involves being the centre of attention with an intensity that is not experienced elsewhere. Unless that 12 bore “accidently” discharges. Then there will be lots of photographers and lots of flash photography outside the Crown Court.
The basis of execution, then, is in its preparation. The wedding photographer is a supplier not an organiser, s/he does not run the day as a photo-shoot of wedding dresses might be run, s/he is not the point of the day but they are the key to unlocking the memories of it. It is a story and the photographer is the story teller. It is NOT a small job. A wedding, even a relatively simple one, has a timetable for everything. The photographer knows that timetable and those venues inside out because they dictate what s/he is going to be doing the whole day.
The question of gear was addressed. Dan expressed the reasons behind his kit list: D800; back up body; 24-70 f2.8; 70-210 f2.8; 85mm f1.8; 2 x SB 900 TTL flashguns; Coolpix compact; USB lead; Lap Top; external drive; i-Pad; batteries; battery charger; light meter; flash filters; lots and lots of 16gb flash drives; all kept in a photo-rucksack and shoots in RAW. That is RAW, not JPEG. RAW. The camera backs up to JPEG simultaneously on a separate card but Dan shoots in RAW. This gives the maximum image rescue capacity in case of the unexpected. For one offs such as these where there is not time to go back and shoot again getting the maximum amount of information recorded by the sensor onto the card makes sense. That is shoot in RAW, in case you missed the point. The rest of the kit list is optional and set by individual preferences and experience. The kit is not cheap because it has to work and still carry a back up where ever opportune. Dan shoots all his wedding events in RAW. Dan doesn’t feel the need for anything below a 24mm (16mm equivalent on a 1.5x crop), it is superfluous to the way he shoots and details are only really isolated at wider angles by getting really close – too close for the comfort of the subjects which is the point and beyond that is really very specialist and quite divides opinion. You want results you have to engage with your clients and right in their faces is not going to be very productive.
Details, details, details. Everything is in the detail. It is the small things that matter, because everything is designed around the small details and when the couple view these pictures over time those details enrich the memory and value of the day. Details can be where the cost of a wedding really begins to ramp up. Pay them the respect of an individual frame or two each because they all add up to something much bigger. As Napoleon Bonaparte, who built and lost and Empire on details and detailed planning, said, “Time spent in reconnaissance is never wasted” (only he said it in French). Reconnoitre the venues, get to know the key people, find out what is and what is not permissible BEFORE it gets to be a problem. Dan pointed out that trading and collaborating with the other suppliers can lead to other business. You really want to avoid extreme angles where you can unless a particular shot calls for it, but that needs to be a pre-planned event. Context is the key to all these details. The context will tell their part in the story so keep the context in mind.
The day usually starts with the bride getting ready. This is going to take some time and she is going to look the best she ever will hereafter. As Dan pointed out, if a male you are likely the only male in the room and have been privileged specifically for the end of making everything exciting and memorable. Take some time and make time to take the moment seriously – gravitas! The people around and her own reactions are the key things to capture, the context of the details you are framing and shooting. It is important to be relaxed, to interact and not to overshoot. Get the angles and vary your lenses and do not be afraid to wait for the moment – it will take longer to arrive than you think! And of course do not forget the dress. This should be done as an item by itself in as sympathetic a background as you can make and make sure you do not clutter your background with irrelevant detail. You may be fond of the colour yellow but a finely and painstakingly wrought garment like a wedding dress is not enhanced against the background of a skip. Pay great attention to the background and de-clutter! Dan’s pithy advice is to treat the details as exercises in real life. These can be and should be practiced because when you are being paid for it you are being paid to have it sorted before you turn up. The same logic applies to us amateurs. Why waste time missing shots when you can practise using your equipment to get it right when you want it?
On the grooms side the grooms men and the best man in particular – DO get the picture of the ring before it is on the brides finger – generally have a lot less pressure and detail to attend to. I am told, with authority, that this is because they are male and the day itself does not need to be complicated by such things for us as thinking. That is why there is so much planning to do to minimise the amount of thinking the groom has to do and the reason there is a best man is that between them they are likely to turn up at the right place at the more or less appointed time (which is way before the bride appears – a wide safety margin is the norm). Make sure you are there to be able to document that side too. The path of two committed individuals coming together to make one path ahead. In order for that story to be told the story lines have to converge at the ceremony, the place where two paths become one.
At the ceremony itself, which of course holds no surprises because you have seen the schedule, visited the venues and interviewed the participants like the person conducting the service, you should arrive at least 30 minutes before its commencement. Flash photography is likely banned, you are not going to be given access to places where you are going to get in the way – determine, and if necessary negotiate these in advance – and that can be as much a perception as anything else. This is the point where you are likely to get the closest friends and relatives and a good time for group shots. These are the people that are going to be obvious by their absence from the album so take some extra effort. Groups should be ranked from shortest to the tallest and everyone should be visible (as per the group shot at the end of the session!).
After the ceremony, the traditional confetti shots, get guests to throw the confetti upwards so that it falls from the top of the frame. Dan also mentioned that this is a good time to use manual focus as autofocus can get confused by the paper in the air. The reception can be some distance from the ceremony and this is where timings are important. It is a good time to get the couple on their own for intimate shots whilst the guests make their way to the reception, so a small detour, to a local landmark for instance, might be in order. At the reception Dan follows the bride as a back up to any other plans having been made. It is always prudent, he reckons, to make sure that the elder generation are well represented as there is a chance that this might be their last big family occasion and of course do not forget the cake.
Private moments are important, there will be intimate moments of connection and they will yield excellent photo opportunities. If there is a receiving line then allow 30 seconds per guest – make time! It is also prudent to have wet and dry weather scenarios. The wedding breakfast is the ideal time to get your shots backed up. A laptop/external drive or other device should always be on hand. Dan also uses an i-Pad to upload several of the best shots of the ceremony as a taster and places it where it will be seen by circulating guests – the bar is a good place!
The practical thing about the first dance is that it is going to be darker than a lot of the other parts of the ceremony. Push the ISO (noise reduction is available through Photoshop or programmes like Neat Image which has a very effective demo version), use flash as necessary – reflected not direct. Direct flash is harsh and unflattering. Think wide medium and close shots. The devil, as they say, is in the detail. The details let you control as much as you can without getting in the way by using your knowledge to anticipate and prepare. If you fail to prepare then you are preparing to fail and that has large implications and not just for the photographer. The other key is to be able to relate to your subjects, to engage with them in such a way that they respond to what needs to be done to get the shot. In return you should make it a chore for them, but, either way, every wedding is a one off event – there are no second chances!
Our thanks to Dan for a very interesting and informative evening and to Mark O’Grady for the video which Dan will make available to club members through his website.